NHS boss announces air pollution 'emergency' as major study shows our dirty air is killing us

For years Greenies and some medical researchers have been trying to prove that air pollution is bad for you.  You would think that that would be a slam dunk -- and at some level air pollution probably is bad for you -- but is it dangerous at the levels we encounter in the worst areas of Western cities?

It isn't.  There are normally one or two studies every year that claim to prove a relatioship between pollution and health and I regularly review them. See here. Without fail, the studies are full of holes.  They do not show what they purport to show.  They omit major methodological precautions that would have protected them from false conclusions and as a result leave their reported effects attributable to other things than pollution.

I find this bemusing.  Is there no researcher out there who is capable of doing a defensible study of the topic?  I suspect that there is and that there have been.  What presumably happens when a good study is done is that the desired effect is not found.  Pollution is found not to be dangerous.  To avoid antagonizing their colleagues, however, those studies are never submitted for publication.  The old bias agist "negative results" comes into play.  Only those studies which purport to show the desired correlation are submitted for publication.  But they are --demonstrably -- the poorly done ones.

So I was initially  rather impressed by the report below:  a study of real people in a real setting: no artificial laboratory rubbish or dubious sampling.

I was soon disappointed.  The pollution statistics looked sound but what about disease incidence?  Where did the statistics on that come from?  Rather hilariously, they had no direct figures for that at all.  We read:

"To match higher pollution days with their impact on public health, the researchers used previous studies which have already highlighted this link, such as expert Committees reports"

We do not yet have details of what those previous reports were but in the light of chronic failures in previous studies already noted one is hardly brimming with confidence that their findings were sound. Once again, the authors have built their castle on sand

So what the heck is going on? Why is it so hard to prove the obvious?

My academic background is in psychology but I twice taught in university departments that also included sociology and anthropology.  And I have always taken an interest in anthropology anyhow. And I think we now have to turn to anthropology to understand what is going on.

And it's rather simple. From our evolutionry past to poor societies in the world today, people have relied heavily on wood fires for heating and cooking.   Even in London today they still do.  A London example below:

But most woodburners are more like this;

And as you soon find out if you regress to the past that Greenies want for all of us, those fires put out SOOT, which is the very stuff that Greenies also say is bad for us

To stop beating around the bush: Humankind has spent maybe a million years huddled around open fires so has evolved to tolerate heavy levels of particulate pollution -- far higher levels than one would normally encounter in modern Western society.  If we do get a load of particulate pollution, we just cough it up. Fine-particle air pollution is NOT bad for us

So a whole tradition of research exists only because of heavily compartmentalized thinking.

The boss of the NHS has declared an air pollution "emergency" as a major study today shows it causes hundreds of heart attacks and strokes every year.

Simon Stevens says we must act now to avoid so many "avoidable deaths" after figures reveal days of high air pollution trigger an extra 124 cardiac arrests, 231 stroke admissions and 193 hospitalisations for asthma across nine major UK cities each year.

Health charities today warn the figures could be just the “tip of the iceberg”, as often those suffering asthma attacks do not go to hospital.

The research by King’s College London, which is due to be published next month, is believed to be the first of its kind to analyse the impact of air pollution on health across different UK regions in this way.

In response to the findings Mr Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said: “As these new figures show, air pollution is now causing thousands of strokes, cardiac arrests and asthma attacks, so it’s clear that the climate emergency is in fact also a health emergency.

“Since these avoidable deaths are happening now - not in 2025 or 2050 - together we need to act now. For the NHS that is going to mean further comprehensive action building on the reduction of our carbon footprint of one fifth in the past decade.

“So our NHS energy use, supply chain, building adaptations and our transport will all need to change substantially.”

The new figures, released in partnership with UK100 a network of local government leaders, show the immediate, short-term impact of air pollution on the public.

Previous estimates have shown the long-term impact of air pollution cause up to 36,000 deaths every year.

Days where air pollution is more prominent typically occurs on hot, sunny days with little wind, because air pollution stays concentrated and closer to the ground

The nine cities analysed were London, Birmingham, Bristol, Derby, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford and Southampton.

The risk of having a cardiac arrest on the street or in your home is 2.2 percent higher in London on high air pollution days, than lower air pollution days.

This equates to 87 more people on average suffering cardiac arrest each year, while 74 children are admitted to hospital for asthma, and 144 adults are admitted for strokes.

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, said: “London’s lethal air is a public health crisis - it leads to thousands of premature deaths in the capital every year, as well as stunting the development of young lungs and increasing cases of respiratory illness."

In Birmingham, the risk of cardiac arrest is 2.3 percent higher on high pollution days, equating to an extra 12 people per year on average. In Manchester, the risk of cardiac arrest is 2.4 percent higher on high pollution days.

Dr Samantha Walker, director of research and policy at Asthma UK, said: "Toxic air is a scourge on the nation's health and this study shines a light on the devastating effects it can have on people with asthma, causing hundreds to be seriously ill and need hospital treatment.

“These figures may be just the tip of the iceberg as many people with asthma don't go to hospital when they have an asthma attack and try to manage it themselves and this research only focuses on people in major cities in England.

"We urgently need the Government to commit to a stronger Environment Bill with legally binding enforceable targets for clean air, based on World Health Organisation recommendations.”

To measure air pollution levels the researchers used data from the UK monitoring body, the Automatic Urban and Rural Network (AURN), which is published by Defra.

Data from Airbase, the European air quality database maintained by the EEA, was also used in the report.

They classed higher pollution days as those which fell in the top quarter of the annual average range.

To match higher pollution days with their impact on public health, the researchers used previous studies which have already highlighted this link, such as expert Committees reports, NHS statistics and studies from the World Health Organisation.

The number of additional patients suffering health impacts in each of the nine cities was calculated by mapping the rates of health impacts from previous studies onto the population size of the cities, and then quantifying this impact rate with the number of high pollution days.

Dr Heather Walton, from King’s College, said: “This wider range of impacts on our health provides additional evidence of the important need for further action to reduce air pollution.”

A Defra spokesperson said:  “We are taking urgent action to improve air quality and tackle pollution so people can live longer healthier lives.

“Our landmark Environment Bill will set ambitious, legally-binding targets to reduce fine particulate matter and increase local powers to address key sources of air pollution.

“We are already working hard to reduce transport emissions and are investing £3.5 billion to clean up our air, while our Clean Air Strategy has been praised by the WHO as an ‘example for the rest of the world to follow.”


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